Common belief dictates that publicly announcing your goals increases the chances of success. When you tell everyone that you're going to jog everyday, then you feel the pressure of having to follow through on your goal, or otherwise let everyone down. At least, that's what we believe.

I've done this often myself. After all, it feels nice to announce all the things I want to achieve in the future. However, the research at NYU, led by Peter Gollwitzer, shows the opposite.

The gap between intentions and results

In Gollwitzer's study, 49 psychology students at a German university were asked to fill out a questionnaire on their commitment to becoming a psychologist. Next, the participants were asked to write down their two most important study intentions for the week, such as "I will take reading assignments more seriously," or "I will study more statistics."

One group of participants had their intentions read by the experimenter under the assumption that the participants had completed the assignment correctly. The second group, however, was told that the questionnaire had been wrongly included and would therefore by discarded. In other words, their intentions went unnoticed.

One week later, the students were emailed a second questionnaire. They were required to write down their behavioral intentions listed previously, and then indicate exactly which days of the week they had acted on each intention. The completed questionnaire was brought to the experimenter, where the students received payment or course credit.

In the results of this study and subsequent studies performed on other students, the experimenters found that the students whose intentions were known tended to act less on their intentions than those whose intentions were unknown.

Why publicly announcing your goals is a bad idea

The researchers concluded that telling people what you want to achieve creates a premature sense of completeness. While you feel a sense of pride in letting people know what you intend to do, that pride doesn't motivate you and can in fact hurt you later on.

When you write down or think about your intentions, there's a gap between where you are and where you want to be. The compelling need to close this gap helps you to act on your intentions. But when you let others know about it, the gap closes because you (artificially) feel the same way you should after completing your intentions.

The main takeaway is this: You're better off keeping your thoughts and plans to yourself if you want to get things done. The next time you want to complete a goal, put your head down and get to it, instead of telling everyone around you.

Published on: Aug 8, 2017
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